“The Issue Is”: Ron Brownstein on the political future and cultural past

This week on "The Issue Is," a look ahead into the political future and a look back into the cultural past during an in-depth conversation with journalist and author Ronald Brownstein.

Brownstein joins Elex Michaelson during a week in which California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed legislation that would have created safe drug injection sites in major cities across the state, and as Newsom continued to push back against Red state Governors, namely Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Newsom donating $100,000 to DeSantis’ gubernatorial opponent Charlie Crist.

Brownstein discusses Newsom’s moves and how he’s positioning himself in the Democratic Party heading into the midterms and the 2024 Presidential contest, that is, he says, all depending on whether President Biden decides to run or not.

Ron Brownstein

Then, a look back in time, to 1974. That year is the subject of Brownstein’s book "Rock Me on the Water: 1974 - The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics," which is now in paperback.

Brownstein and Michaelson discuss some of the seminal works and performers of the era, TV shows like "All in the Family" and "M*A*S*H*," films like "Chinatown," "The Godfather," and "Five Easy Pieces," and musical acts like The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.



BROWNSTEIN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I think he's filling a vacuum in the Democratic Party, you know, kind of the classic example of political entrepreneurship. There is enormous anxiety across the Democratic coalition, all the key groups, all the key constituencies, about the rollback of rights that is underway in many of the red states - Texas and Florida at the forefront of the list - abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, book bans, classroom censorship. For a variety of reasons, Joe Biden isn't really comfortable being the point of the spear in pushing back on that, he has never really been much of a culture warrior to begin with, and his overall message is focus more on bringing the country together.... and I think Newsom, as a Governor of California, which carries, you know, certain vulnerabilities and liabilities, but nonetheless gives him a very logical platform from which to be the voice saying, 'look, these people, you know, these governors are going in the wrong direction.' I think he found a niche, and the evidence seems to be that he's filling the niche in a way that is raising his profile across the Democratic Party…"



BROWNSTEIN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "First of all, the state is out on a limb on a lot of progressive issues, and [Newsom], as we're talking about, is out on a limb on a lot of progressive issues, and there are only so many fights that it makes sense to take on at any given point. But, you know, this is also consistent with his proposal for the Care Courts, right? I mean, requiring people to get treatment for drug abuse and mental health in some cases, people who are out on the street. We saw in the strong showing by Caruso, which may not get him over the top in the end, and we saw in the effort to recall Gascon and the successful effort to recall Boudin, there is a desire for order in the electorate, even in left-leaning, blue cities, and I think Newsom is trying to respond to that, or bend to that. It didn't surprise me that he decided this was a bridge too far…"



BROWNSTEIN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "He's gotten more done than seemed possible, certainly six, eight months ago, if not quite as much as they were hoping at the outset... In terms of investment in the future productivity of the economy, you're talking about the infrastructure bill and then all of the climate and clean energy investments in the slimmed down reconciliation package, they've put a substantial amount of money on the table, a stake in the ground - you know, I'm reminded Obama in 2012 was able to go around the Midwest with the auto bailout and say, we saved your jobs or we preserved your communities. There are going to be a lot of EV plants opened in in the industrial heartland, battery plants, you know, subcontractors, people involved all up and down the the solar kind of supply chain. There's gonna be a lot of that happening between now and 2024 and certainly beyond, I think that's gonna be a very powerful calling card for them. They did not achieve a lot of what they wanted on the social side, not only the social safety net, as I said, but pretty much all of the rights issues where the House, without much notice, has passed legislation to undo what the red states are doing on voting, on abortion, on LGBTQ rights, all them have been blocked by the Senate filibuster, but overall, you'd have to say in a 50-50 Senate, a five-seat majority in the House, it's pretty remarkable how much they ended up getting across the finish line…."



BROWNSTEIN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "Clearly, there's been a change. We are having kind of a split decision election: in the House, you know, there are only four times since the Civil War where the party out-of-power hasn't gained the five seats that Republicans would need to win the House. House races have grown to be more parliamentary. They're somewhat more anonymous. They're more about the direction of the country, the president's approval rating, right track, wrong track. All of that makes it hard for Democrats to hold the House, even if the size of the gains aren't, for Republicans, are not nearly as big as they were talked about earlier this year, largely because white collar suburbs that moved away from the Republican Party 16, especially 18 and 20, are staying away as we see in these in these special elections, and that narrows the playing field. I mean, if Democrats who won these basically white collar suburbs of 18 and 20 are safer because issues like abortion, guns, and democracy/Trump have become more viable, the Republican playing field is smaller. Then when you get to the statewide elections, you have that factor, which is the Democrats are still dominating in these white collar suburbs, but the larger factor is that you have Republican candidates who are essentially hand-selected by Trump in races like the Georgia and Arizona, Pennsylvania Senate races, the governor races in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Arizona... all of whom are struggling…"



BROWNSTEIN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "They lived in the same world as the viewers. I mean, Archie Bunker lived in the same world as the people watching the show, you know. The basic story of "Rock Me on the Water" is that the pop culture produced in L.A. in the early 1970s, television, movies and music was the crucible in which the critique of American life that emerged out of all the social movements in the 1960s was kind of cemented into our consciousness, never to go away: greater suspicion of business and government, you know. Greater suspicion of authority. Changing roles for women. Changing relations between men and women. More assertiveness among groups that have been previously marginalized. All of these ideas, you know, it's hard to remember the world that existed before what we're operating in, but in the 1960s, television and Hollywood completely ignored all the changes that were happening around them. I mean, television that didn't get any closer to Vietnam than 'Gomer Pyle' and 'McHale's Navy.' So then all of a sudden, you have 'MASH,' which is essentially Vietnam with the thinnest of fig leafs, you know, commenting on the war as it's happening. You have Archie and Mike Stivic, Rob Reiner and Carroll O'Connor condensing the generation gap into a single living room. And you have 'Mary Tyler Moore' embodying the changing role of women. In all of these ways, TV became part of the world around it in a way that it did not when it was 'Beverly Hillbillies' and 'Petticoat Junction' and 'Green Acres.’…"


The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.